Cuba attracts $1.7b in foreign investment despite US sanctions - GulfToday

Cuba attracts $1.7b in foreign investment despite US sanctions


Rodrigo Malmierca speaks during the Havana International Fair in Cuba. Reuters

Cuba said that the country had attracted $1.7 billion worth of foreign investment over the past year despite a tighter US trade embargo and worsening cash crunch, although it did not reach its goal of $2 billion to $2.5 billion annually.

Cuba’s Trade Minister Rodrigo Malmierca told a news conference at Cuba’s annual trade fair in Havana that 25 investment projects had been agreed since October last year, compared with 40 in the same period the previous year worth a lesser $1.5 billion.

Rodrigo Malmierca spoke during the opening of the 37th Havana International Fair (FIHAV) in Havana, Cuba, on Monday.

Cuba’s Communist government passed a new foreign investment law five years ago and created a special economic zone just west of Havana boasting tax and customs breaks with the hope of attracting more foreign capital to boost its ailing state-dominated economy.

For a few years, Cuba had improved relations with the West, and foreign companies including US firms descended upon Havana en masse, elbowing one another to gain a foothold in the opening market.

Ana Teresa Igarza, director general of the special economic zone, said on Wednesday that 50 projects had been agreed so far there, with 26 already in operation. But Cuba’s economy has lost some appeal in recent years as it has entered a crisis due to the implosion of key ally Venezuela and a resulting decline in subsidies. Over the past year, there have been shortages of everything from fuel to medicine and certain foodstuffs.

In addition, US President Donald Trump over the past two years has rolled back the détente of his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama and imposed new sanctions on Cuba. These include allowing US citizens to sue foreign companies they deem to be trafficking in properties unlawfully confiscated from them after the island’s 1959 revolution.

The area of the fair presenting US businesses, which had boomed only a few years ago, was a sad affair this week, with only a handful of companies present.

One of the few exhibitors present was Jay Brickman, vice president of Florida-based shipping company Crowley Maritime Corporation, which has been shipping foods to Cuba for nearly two decades under an exemption to the US trade embargo.

US exports to Cuba suddenly contracted over the last month, likely due to Cuba’s difficulty getting financing in the wake of tighter sanctions.

Next week, Brickman said, his firm would be sending a ship over with just 13 containers on board, compared with the 50 containers needed to break even.

“It’s worse than ever before,” he said.

Cash-strapped Cuba has begun paying a fourth installment on its renegotiated $2.6 billion debt to 14 creditor nations, and its chief debt negotiator, Ricardo Cabrisas, told Reuters this week that all payments would be made, even if a bit late.

Cuba reached an agreement in 2015 with members of the Paris Club of wealthy creditor nations that forgave $8.5 billion of the $11.1 billion in debt it defaulted on through 1986, as well as charges.

Repayment of the remaining debt was backloaded through 2033 and some of that money allocated to funds for investments in Cuba. Cuba paid around $70 million last year and a further $80 million was due by Oct.31.

“We met the payment in 2015. We met it in 2016, 2017 and 2018. And we will meet it in 2019, too,” Cabrisas said on the sidelines of a trade fair in Havana, adding, “though not without a great effort.”

Cuba is going through a liquidity crisis due to the implosion of ally Venezuela’s economy and the tightening of the decades-old US trade embargo under President Donald Trump.

The country has been late paying traders and investors, and shortages of everything from fuel to food and medicines have plagued the country this year.

Last year a few of the payments to Paris Club members were made after the Oct. 31 deadline, diplomats from six of the creditor nations said, asking not to be identified, and they expected the same this year.

“Both sides understand the agreement’s importance and the difficulties Cuba faces. Nevertheless, we expect them to pay by the end of the year,” one of the diplomats said.

Cuba last reported its foreign debt at $18.2 billion in 2016, and experts believe it has risen significantly since then. The country is not a member of the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank.


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